Over the Easter holidays we started playing the card game Uno. Some of you are experts at it, and we should maybe start a church Uno tournament! But just in case you haven’t played it before, here’s how it works. You are given some cards, each of which have a colour (red, blue, yellow and green), and a number 0-9. There are some wildcards, so you can change the playing colour to whatever you want; and some trick cards, to change direction or to make the next player pick up two or four extra cards.
The idea of the game is to get rid of your cards by matching one of your cards to the card that’s in play on the table. So if it’s a red 2, you can put down any colour of 2, or any red number, because that’s a match. But sometimes, you have to watch your opponents carefully. You see, if you’re not watching, they might try to sneakily put down a green 4 on top of a red 2. But the green 4 doesn’t fit - it isn’t a match. It doesn’t go with what’s already there.
In our Bible reading this morning, Paul is dealing with a similar sort of mis-match in the church in Corinth. There’s something that they believe that doesn’t fit with something else that they believe. The two things don’t fit together. And as Paul tackles this issue, he helps us to see why it matters that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
Last week, we began looking at this chapter on the resurrection. And we saw that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the most important thing that we can know about - it was Postman Paul’s first class post. And the epic Jenga game reminded us that the resurrection of Jesus is what we build on. If it isn’t there, then our whole Christian faith will fall. But we can be sure that Jesus is alive, because of all the eyewitnesses who saw him - the people the Corinthians could have gone to ask, ‘is it true?’
So the first card that’s on the table is the resurrection of Jesus. Anything else that we do needs to line up with this. But some of the Corinthians were trying to play a different sort of a card. One that didn’t match at all. One that was out of place. We see it in verse 12:
‘But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?’
Some of the people in the church didn’t believe in any sort of resurrection. They didn’t think that anyone would be raised to new life in a new body. For the Greeks, they thought that the body was just a kind of container for the real you, your soul, and that when you died, then your soul could go free, finally escape from the confines of the body.
And, when you think of it, that sounds very like what people around us believe as well. So we might hear (or even say), he’s free. She’s become an angel. She’s a star now. She’s looking down on us. Some maybe even thought that this life is all there is (yolo - you only live once).
Do you see how it doesn’t match? Christ has been raised, but there’s no such thing as anyone being raised. It doesn’t make sense! And, if there’s no resurrection, then not even Christ has been raised. (13) And so, as we work our way through these verses, Paul will show us what the future would be like if there’s no such thing as the resurrection; and especially if Jesus hasn’t been raised from the dead.
The passage breaks down into several sections; each showing the implications of there being no resurrection. Simply put, Paul is saying, ‘If Christ has not been raised ...’
We see the first in verse 14: ‘If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.’
Without the resurrection, then it’s pointless to preach, and it’s pointless to believe. I wonder if you ever heard about the wee boy who was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said he wanted to be a preacher. Why’s that? he was asked. Well, if I have to go to church, it looks like it’d be more fun standing up shouting than sitting down listening...
And if any of you want to have a go, just let me know on the way out! Paul says that his preaching is all useless, pointless, a waste of breath and a waste of time - if Christ has not been raised. If we have no message of a risen Jesus, then it’s all for nothing. Worse than useless. We might as well pack up and go home. If - a big if - Christ has not been raised.
And if preaching is useless, then so also is your faith. To trust in a still-dead Jesus would be absolutely pointless. Sometimes people put their hope in a sports team, and they always only ever find disappointment. But to believe in a Jesus who isn’t alive would be even worse. Pointless. He wouldn’t be able to help or save or do anything for you. Worse than useless. That is, if Christ has not been raised.
In verse 15, we see another consequence of Jesus not being raised. ‘More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we testified that he raised Christ from the dead.’ Paul’s preaching wouldn’t just be useless - it would be positively criminal. He would be telling lies about God and what God had done! To say that God raised Jesus, when God hadn’t done that would be a massive lie, a fearsome false witness against the God who tells us not to bear false witness.
In verse 17 we see another implication of their thinking. ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.’ Last week we celebrated the fact that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day... But if Jesus only died and stayed dead, then he wouldn’t have paid the price for our sins. We would still bear them ourselves when we die. And so believing in Jesus would be pointless. Futile. Without the resurrection, we have no salvation; no forgiveness; and no hope.
That’s what Paul comes on to in verse 18: ‘Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.’ If Christ has not defeated death, then we will not overcome death either. And that means that the people from Corinth who have already died trusting in Christ are also lost. It’s all over - if Christ has not been raised.
And that brings us to the last of the implications. We see it in verse 19:
‘If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.’
If the hope that Christ gives us only lasts in this life, then it’s worth nothing. If Christ cannot help us beyond death, then there isn’t any hope in the first place. And so for us to hope in Christ is pitiful.
Recently in the news there was a warning about holiday scams. Last year, it seems, some 4,700 travellers fell victim to these, losing on average £1,500 each. They had made their booking (or so they thought), sent off their money, in some cases even arrived at the airport, but there was no booking; no holiday; the scammers had taken the money and ran.
So is Jesus a bit like that? Says all the right things, it all looks to be in order, but when our time comes, he’s no help at all? If he hasn’t been raised, if we only have hope for this life and not for what comes after, then we are to be pitied most of all!
I hope that you’re beginning to see just how important the resurrection of Jesus is for us. It wasn’t just something that happened one day two thousand years ago, but doesn’t really impact us. Rather, it affects us here and now, today. It’s a bit like the river Lagan flowing through Dromore. In the town park, there are a couple of bridges over the river. We used to have stick races, to see whose stick made it from one side of the bridge to the other first. But my favourite thing to do was to find a stone. As big a stone as I could find. And then I’d go to the bridge, and drop the stone into the river. The ripples would spread out, from the stone itself out and out, so that the whole width of the river felt the ripples.
So if Jesus hasn’t been raised - what does Paul tell us it would be like? Our preaching is useless. Our faith is useless. Paul has lied about God. Our faith is futile. We are still in our sins. Those who have fallen asleep are lost. And we are to be pitied most of all. That is, if Christ has not been raised.
All this, because the Corinthians were out of step with the Bible. Their thinking wasn’t matching up to God’s truth. And so, they were in danger of experiencing all these things, of being mis-matched with God’s word. And this is where we would be as well, if Christ has not been raised.
Now, we could end here. Hopeless, helpless, lost and pitiful. We could leave you dangling on verse 19 for a week, but you’ll be glad to know that I’m not going to do that. All those things would be true, if Christ has not been raised.
Verse 20: ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.’
If you’re trusting in Christ today, then you’re not hopeless, or helpless; you’re not lost or pitiful. Why? Because Christ has indeed been raised. As the stone rolled away from the tomb, the ripples still roll out to us today. Life, hope, joy, purpose, peace. They are all yours, if you are in Christ, trusting in him, connected to him.
But if you aren’t in Christ; if you don’t know him; then you’re still without hope. Your only hope for this life and beyond is the Lord Jesus. He is the only one who could walk out of the tomb; he is the only one who gives us hope in this life and beyond.
Take some time to ask the hard questions - is Jesus really alive? how can I be sure? how do I get to know him? It really will be worth it, because Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. Match up what you believe with what has happened in the life of Jesus.
This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 22nd April 2018.